The intoxicating Opium

Harvard HBS OPM-46 Reunion

 

Pun intended, the reunion that India witnessed when batch-mates of OPM-46 gathered at Jodhpur this year, the entire tour turned out to be one heady affair. And as Alon said correctly at the Gala Night, the wishes of each OPM’er were fulfilled even before they were conceived.
Flights took off from around the world to pick Harvard graduates from more than fifteen nations, to land at the capital city of India. We were to fly to Jodhpur the next morning and hence, decided to utilise the day. While some women of our OPM 46 family opted for a shopping spree with Neha, some of us took the opportunity to taste a slice of Delhi’s history a bit.

Beating the heat with our cool motives to meet our friends after such a long journey we stepped onto the Qutab Minar Complex, a UNESCO world heritage site. The tower enclosing a spiral 329 steps could be well compared to the leaning tower of Pisa as it too stands tilted at just over 65 cm from t he vertical. Columns of pale red sandstone, separated by flanges gives this beautiful minaret a sense of design and architectural excellence of the twelfth century. The complex houses  another pillar along with the Qutub Minar called the “Iron pillar of Delhi” constructed much before the Qutab Minar, by king Chandra and is notable for its rust resistance feature.  The Iron Pillar is a testimony to the high level of skill achieved by the ancient Indian iron smiths in the extraction and processing of iron.


Our next stop was at the Humayun’s tomb that triggered our inquisitiveness as to why this memorial built by a queen for her king 90 years earlier than Taj Mahal, isn’t as popular as the latter. Empress Bega Begum, wife of Humayun, built this first garden tomb in Indian subcontinent after his death. It is said that she was so grieved by her husband’s demise that she gave up her life and all her wealth for the sole purpose of constructing this monument. The intricate “Jaali” screens, decorative brackets, massive pillars, graceful arches speak highly of an amazing combination of Rajasthan and Mughal architecture.

The small stage in front of us with three musicians in some decent tribal costumes greeting us promised us an entertaining musical night. But that it would be us entertaining ourselves came as a complete surprise. When told that it’s going to be an interactive drumming experience and that we must look out for some hidden musical instruments, we laughed off by saying, ’funny guy’. However, soon this funny guy turned out to be the one who taught us to play the small drums that each of us confiscated from under our seats, in few amazingly easy steps. And since then, placing them between our knees, we played on the entire evening as per his instructions, completely overwhelmed by the revelation that we can actually beat a drum in rhythm. But that was not all. Besides drumming, we massaged each other’s shoulders and back, screamed like tribal people, waved our hands like them and laughed insane at some of the wittiest jokes and comments. The night ended on a high note of dancing and a sumptuous dinner and we retired all happy and excited for the coming days of fun and frolic.

Would you believe me if I tell you that just to spend good quality time at the Airport, group one flyers to Jodhpur, woke up early, skipped breakfast and waited for their delayed flight for more than two hours. But all the indignation felt at the terminal proved its worth  as we landed at the blue city.

 

Two bejewelled Indian elephants, their faces painted with bright colours, greeted us with swaying trunks and we took turns posing with them and taking selfies. Several men in uniform, riding horses escorted us through the beautiful lawn of Umaid Bhavan Palace Hotel. And as we stepped on the stairs at the entrance, women in Rajasthani attires threw flower petals on our way and welcomed us with the customary tika and garlands. With cool drinks we relaxed a bit at the courtyard, where musicians and dancers soothed our senses, before going for the royal lunch awaiting us.

Jodhpur roads were bumpy but the sands of the Thar Desert were as smooth as talcum powder and many of us preferred walking bare foot to have the feel. Though we reached late due to the flight delay, the cute camels waited for us to give us a ride where all our body parts got exercised. And as if that was not enough many of us took the dune crashing jeep ride to set our spirit for the maddening night that was to follow.

 

Relaxing once again like royals on cushioned “Charpoy”, a hand woven wooden framed Indian cot sipping drinks and enjoying the “Hookah”, we revelled in  the mind-blowing traditional folk dances. The women in vibrant “Ghaghara- Choli” danced on plates and daggers, balanced several pots on their heads, while men played with fire as if there were nothing hot or scalding about the flames. But the cutest part was when two little boys in traditional attire danced and pulled some of us to dance with them.

And then arrived Ishwar with some funny Bollywood dance moves in his magic bag that he distributed amongst us generously. He moved and we moved, he swayed and we swayed and what followed was an absolute dance-o-mania. Ladies stole the night with Ritu, Neha, Andrea, Soigne ,Carolene and Olga being the ones who burnt the stage on fire even after Ishwar stepped down. So much energy was flowing through the night that Alexey repeated love notes in accented Hindi for Olga, gave away all inhibitions and expressed his love openly with hugs and kisses. A sumptuous Indian traditional dinner at an open courtyard under the starry sky whetted our appetite. And when Andrea tasted “Paan”, an Indian mouth-freshner and digestive made out of betel leaves on Soigne’s insistence, she declared it had perfume in it making a face that made us all laugh. This gave Soigne’s mischievous mind a kick and she went around offering “Paan” to all non-Indians, who obliged her wish making weird faces till the flavoured taste set in.

Fresh air, soft grass and the blue yonder above. Just the right combination for a Yoga session that some of us attended, winning over their morning siesta. It was followed by a wide spread of breakfast, overlooking the lawn where two musicians played some soulful melodies.

“While Jaipur is called pink city, Udaipur the white city and Jodhpur the blue city, owing to its houses painted blue”, the guide told us as we gathered at the “Mahila Baag ka Jhalra” a 300-year-old step-well close to the “Gulab Sagar” lake. It was a square underground well surrounded by steps in beautiful pattern, a piece of magnificent architecture and engineering.

“But why blue?”, one of us asked.

“When Jodhpur and Jaipur were at war, the Maharajah requested not to attack the Brahmins of Jodhpur. The army of Jaipur accepted such request and suggested that the houses where the priests lived should have an easy identification. Hence, a mixture of limestone, which is easy available and cheap in Jodhpur and copper sulphate in water was applied directly to the walls inside as well as outside homes.  Copper sulphate is what imparted it’s the rich blue colour to the houses.”

 

 

After being dropped near the clock tower by auto rickshaws, an open three wheeler we walked around the old Jodhpur city on foot, mingling amongst the locals. But though I loved the blue houses, I was completely mesmerised by the detailing on the doors and windows of  every flat roofed desert houses as I walked past the narrow meandering lanes. Traditional Rajasthani arches, intricately carved niches and beautifully patterned screens to keep away the sunlight, stole my heart. Savouring some traditional Jodhpuri snacks and milk tea we visited a temple of lord Krishna, “The Kunja Bihari Temple”  another architectural splendour. The place gave us a short refuge from the deafening market noise and the rush of the busy locals. To our pleasant surprise and delight we spotted Ronald wearing a “Safa”, a colourful turban that he bought from the market trying to blend in with the Indian Culture. He also took pictures with local people and was teased by friends that he probably has a wife and family there. But Ronald didn’t stop there. He even managed to find a person with an arm length long moustache and clicked pictures holding the black tuft of hair. And though he was afraid to divulge this funny part of his personality to his office, he seemed to be enjoying every bit of the rich Indian culture.

While we spent the day at the outskirts of the Mehrangarh fort, the evening took us inside. Each one of us dressed in traditional Indian attires stood just outside “Jai Pol”, the huge gate of the Mehrangarh fort illuminated colourfully to welcome us. For moments we were dumbstruck witnessing the humungous fort embedded in the hills. Built by Maharaja Rao Jodha, the king of Mewar (former name of Jodhpur) to protect his city. There was a “Safa” counter nearby and though in India normally men sport turbans on their heads, we found many enthusiastic women sporting them with pride. We were then asked to push the gorgeously carved victory gate and as we did so, sounds of trumpet and flower petals welcomed us in a manner fit for queens and kings.

To reach the top we had to climb a gradual uphill winding road of nearly five kilometres. However, it was a pleasure to walk through the reddish brown historical walls of the towering “The citadel of Sun”, that stood the test of time, dotted with lovely paintings, stunning arches, few smaller gates, carved windows, amazing facade and canon ball marks of enemy attacks. And all along the walk, musicians and dancers kept us entertained as our procession of nearly seventy-five OPMers who strolled towards the terrace. Walking past the huge stony walls I looked around and tried imagining myself living in the palace in the old glorious days, peeping through the sandstone lattice windows, running around the sprawling courtyards, greeted by royal guards at every nook and corner, making important decisions in royal rooms filled with exclusive artefacts, practicing war-fares with amazing swords and shields decorated with precious stones. Was it all glamour and fun or it also tagged with itself a sense of responsibility and duty towards the commoners who looked up to them, I wondered.

As if stars had descended on earth that night all around the fort to celebrate our visit. The city looked gorgeous from the terrace protected by historical cannon tanks. Feeling literally at the top of the world, we enjoyed the night sipping amazing drinks and exclusive food. But the best part was the visit by the Maharaja Gaj Singh, the present king of Jodhpur himself, who humbly spent a considerable time with us making the night even more memorable. And though Prabha’s intellectual questions might have startled the Maharaja, his answers did leave her and many more impressed.

When the alarm went off at 6 am next morning buzzing like a trapped wasp, I hurriedly left my soft and cosy mattress looking at a king’s photograph that stared at me unabashedly. I must get ready on time for the zip line tour at the Mehrangarh fort, I told myself. Watching the butter gold sunlight slide through the marble stairs I gulped some light breakfast and gathered at the courtyard where stuffed tigers and deer reminded me of the brave hunters. I was not afraid of the heights, rather excited to have a bird’s eye glimpse of the blue city from the fort that I missed last night.

After a mock practice we stepped onto a high zone and the moment I was clipped to the cable I felt a rush of adrenaline. Bending my knees and hanging free I slipped through the thick rope above the green Chokelao garden. Fresh breeze kissed my cheeks and within moments I was nearing the other end. Time to look for the signs to slow down. I looked at the guide at the other end and he crossed his hands, a sign to tell me I need to raise my gloved right hand from the pulley and place it on the rope. I did so, but instead of going ahead it stopped then and there. What did I do? Instead of letting the cable slide through my hands I grabbed it tight. And now I was hanging. It’s okay, I am tied securely and I just needed to remember the instructions given to me if I am stuck like this. I turn around and try sliding through my hands. I succeed but I am too slow and there are others waiting to be slid. The guide comes to my rescue, ties me with him and reaches out to the other end. Feeling a bit embarrassed I grin at my friends and carefully watch the others so that I don’t repeat my mistake.

But I do it again. This time above the beautiful Ranisar Lake. And it is there where I decide I am not going to do the rest of the four zip lines left. I felt a mental block and I gave up despite my friend’s encouraging words. I returned with a Rajasthan police cadet through a picturesque Jodha eco park cherishing whatever little experience I gathered during the two zip lining I managed. The rest of my friends including, Ronald, his friend Michael, Alejo, Rani, Kristin, Yerra, Alan and Sujith, completed successfully the rest of the Zip line bravely enjoying the air trip and the spectacular view below.

Back at the hotel, rest of the group were busy enjoying the vibrant Rajasthani carnival that we joined a bit late but with full excitement and enthusiasm. The decoration was awesome and the ambience super bright. Stalls of traditional garments, accessories, bangles and handicrafts besotted us completely with their awesomeness and we shopped till we dropped. And what do you look for after a good shopping spree? Good food of course! We hopped from one stall to another gulping yummy Indian street food and sweets without counting the calories. Post lunch there were foot massage parlours beside the fortune teller with a parrot to read your luck quotes. And as if this much of entertainment was not enough there were balloon shooting arcade and a pottery stall where you can try your hands for some muddy affair.

Since the group completed their course at every reunion (two so far) a sharing session is planned. It’s where the OPMers shared amongst themselves about their business, family and personal life. It was a pleasure to see how they shed their inhibitions and frankly expressed their thoughts. Many of the issues were common, but the best part was that everyone despite their hectic business schedule looked keen on finding out ways to spend quality time with their family. And why not? Family is where we emerge from, live in and is the only pillar where we can rest our backs on, in happy and sad days alike.

A session for the spouses of the OPMers also took place beside the romantic mock up train at the Hotel. Over tea and cookies, we discussed our journeys through life and were amazed to find that though we all belonged to different parts of the world; the struggles of being a woman and mother, the urge to do something, the emotions that we harboured were all exceptionally  similar. The session not only gave us an insight in to each other’s lives and achievements but also comforted us with the knowledge that we are not alone and belong in the same boat.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, in our best black tie attire as we descended down the stairs of the Umaid Palace lit gorgeously towards the lawn on the last day of our trip, our hearts were full of love and emotion. Despite it being our last night together, nobody really wanted to say goodbye yet. We shook hands and embraced each other with a promise to continue to be in touch as a family. A gratitude note was given by Alon on behalf of the entire OPM 46 to Aditya, Navin and Rakesh and their better halves, Radhika, Ritu and Dimple for their endless efforts that made the reunion celebration flawless and a huge success. And for the Delhi chapter, Ankit and Neha were cheered for their incessant help.

We cheered and clapped as the reunion video “I’m Glad you came” reverberated around our tables making us even more emotional than ever. We also wished Hernan Leal from Chile, a very Happy Birthday who successfully conquered the Chomolungma (Mount Everest) this year on 20th May and made us all very proud. Kudos Hernan! 

The royal sit down dinner with Silver plates and silver cutleries continued and numerous exquisite dishes full of flavour flew one after another, satisfying our taste buds. Uniformed waiters in dozens stood on their feet to serve and clear away our dishes. From starters to main course to deserts, each and every item of the three meal course spoke of out of the world presentation, luxury and refined sensuous enjoyment.

And the topping to the delicious cake of the night proved to be a Drum band performance by Namit with his band “Beat Blasters”. The hall vibrated with boom and frenzy bringing everyone to the dance floor to move and sway with the rhythmic beat. The night’s tempo rose once more and the dance floor remained hot and busy till late night. I am glad I came as I made many new friends, knew many new things, exchanged cultural values and had a blast for five days. Keenly looking forward to our next reunion I remember a quote by Hellen Keller, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light”

Loads of Love
Nita Bajoria

 

Picture courtesy: Sanjay Studio, Nita Bajoria and pics posted on Whats app by OPM freinds 🙂

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